Gene Technology and Synthetic Biology

The details
Life Sciences (School of)
Colchester Campus
Postgraduate: Level 7
Monday 13 January 2025
Friday 21 March 2025
03 July 2024


Requisites for this module



Key module for

MSC C56012 Biotechnology,
MSC C74112 Molecular Medicine,
MSC C13312 Cancer Biology,
MSC C45012 Health Genomics,
MSCIB099 Biomedical Science,
MSCIBA99 Biomedical Science (Including Placement Year),
MSCIBB99 Biomedical Science (Including Year Abroad),
MSCIC098 Biochemistry and Biotechnology (Including Year Abroad),
MSCIC099 Biochemistry and Biotechnology (Including Placement Year),
MSCICZ99 Biochemistry and Biotechnology

Module description

The basic gene technology part of the module examines the isolation of DNA and RNA, gene cloning, the many applications of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), the construction and screening of gene and cDNA libraries, directed mutagenesis techniques, transformation of key organisms and basic lab-based sequencing.

The synthetic biology part of the module will provide an introduction to key design concepts in Synthetic Biology which underpin the methods used for rapidly building new biosynthetic pathways using advanced recombinant DNA technology, the construction of novel coding sequences and the synthesis of novel genes and the first synthetic organism.

Module aims

The aim of this module is:

  • To provide a solid introduction into core techniques of molecular biology and how these are being expanded in synthetic biology approaches.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module, students will be expected to be able to:

  1. Have an understanding of how manipulation of nucleic acids has been central to developments in biotechnology and biology as a whole.

  2. Describe the major tools used in gene technology and understand how such tools are used.

  3. Explain how molecular techniques can be used in combination to explore biological questions.

  4. Have an understanding of the importance of gene technology and of the rapidly developing field of synthetic biology.

  5. Have an understanding of the applications of genome scale methods in biotechnology and molecular medicine.

  6. Demonstrate practical competence in key gene manipulation techniques.

  7. Have developed a range of key skills including information acquisition from web-based and library sources, self-directed learning, critical analysis of data, numeracy, writing and presentation of scientific reports.


Skills for your Professional Life (Transferable Skills)

By the end of this module, students will develop the following transferable skills:

  1. Understanding of classic and contemporary methods in molecular biology.

  2. Hands on experience in preparing, manipulating and analysing plasmid DNA.

  3. Principles and uses of synthetic biology.

  4. Principles of biosensor design and reporter gene construction.

  5. Setting up molecular biology reactions.

  6. Construction of a plasmid for CRISPR based chromosomal DNA modification.

  7. Theory and practical use of PCR and restriction mapping.

  8. Effective note taking and attention to detail.

  9. Troubleshooting and improvement of experimental design.

  10. Improved data analysis and interpretation skills.

  11. Presentation skills, scientific discussion.

  12. Use of online tools for bioinformatic analysis.

Module information

The development of techniques to analyse and manipulate nucleic acids has revolutionised the study of biology and provided the key driver for the massive expansion in biotechnology. Subsequent to this has been the emergence of the fields of genomics, proteomics, and bioinformatics that are now the focus of the most exciting new advances in biotechnology and have led to the emerging discipline of synthetic biology.

Synthetic biology is an area of biotechnology research that can be broadly described as the design and construction of novel artificial biological systems, pathways, organisms or devices, or the re-design of existing natural biological systems (Royal Society, UK).

DNA fingerprinting methodologies, selection and hybridisation methods will also be discussed, and the use of reporter genes to measure non-invasively the expression of genes, to set up novel mutant screens will be discussed.

Three lectures will be concerned with some of the underpinning technologies in genomics with special emphasis on next generation sequencing as applied to transcriptomics and chromatin immune precipitation techniques.

All of this is underpinned by a series of practical classes which jointly show how CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing, an exciting new method, can be used to edit a gene in human cell genomes which is associated with cancer development. The practicals are designed to provide first-hand experience of key procedures and are linked to the first 9 lectures of the course to reinforce theory.

Many of the core lectures will be pre-recorded (available on Moodle and YouTube) and you need to listen to these lectures ahead of meeting (either in person or, most likely, online via Zoom, one lecture ahead of each meeting). These meetings will be essential to discuss the material of the lectures further, for practical training to prepare you for the assignments and also to listen to student presentations.

Learning and teaching methods

This module will be delivered via:

  • Seven lectures.
  • Four linked practicals.

There will be pre-recorded online lectures that will form the basis of group discussions, tutorials and practicals. There will also be student contributions (e.g. discussion) or presentations for flipped learning. There will also be computer based and wet lab based practicals.


This module does not appear to have a published bibliography for this year.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Philip Reeves, email:
Dr Andrew Simkin
School Graduate Office, email: bsgradtaught (Non essex users should add to create a full email address)



External examiner

Dr Emma Denham
University of Bath
Senior Lecturer in Microbiology
Dr Jess Tyrrell
University of Exeter
Senior lecturer
Available via Moodle
No lecture recording information available for this module.


Further information
Life Sciences (School of)

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

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